• Lisa

(Belatedly) I am involved in mankind

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

Pretty girls in delicate ruffles stare back at me through the divide of decades. Dapper men go about their study, work, and leisure while cameras capture a changing culture. All of the faces, brown and black, illustrate the achievement of descendents of recent slaves.

Portland Art Museum’s “Exhibition Universelle,” the International expo to celebrate the achievements of the previous century dovetailed with a black achievement display. Among the encyclopedic presentations was an impressive array of beautiful graphs in “Negro Excellence,” detailed the progress of black people in America from the abolition of slavery in 1863 to the turn of the twentieth century. This incredible work was created by one man before 1900 for the world exposition.

Reproductions of his phenomenal graphs drawn in spirals, circles, and blocks, are the foundation of PAM’s multi-media work that includes a parade of vintage photos of black people in formal attire highlighted by the wisdom of quotes by famous black activists.

Among them, W.E.B. Du Bois on the indescribable experience “to be among one’s own kind.”

The words knocked around in my head. Among one’s own. Imagining the experience of feeling at home, I once again realized I’ve had little of that feeling my entire life. Raised by a mother who wasn’t and living in a cult where I did not belong made me an island. John Donne never met my family.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

Working in survival jobs in my twenties to keep the lights on and provide for my siblings did not help me land where I could launch.

In the end, I found my own people. I do know the joy of being among my own. Still, I’m allowed the disappointment of being on my own for so long.

I am now a piece of the continent, a part of the main, and involved in humankind. Neither my bio family or my cult family gave me that. I gave it to myself.

Now, Donne's sentiments are about me;

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's Or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

The Marvelous John Donne

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